Felix Morrow

The New Leader, May Day and War

(May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 31, 9 May 1939, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Before the events of May Day pass into history, let us emphasize the meaning of one of them: the May Day issue of the New Leader, weekly organ of the Social Democratic Federation.

There were those who characterized us as factionalists when, a year or more ago, we pointed out that the Social Democrats were heading for open and brazen support of Roosevelt’s war plans. I am not revealing a confidence when I record that, only a month or two ago, in private conversation, Sidney Hook protested my characterization of the Social Democrats as warmongers and sought to indicate profound differences among leaders on this key question. I trust that he, and James Rorty, and others who remain anti-war in their convictions but still contribute to the New Leader, will examine its May Day issue.

The front page is given over to a cartoon reprinted from the St. Louis Post Dispatch: two hands, that of the Statue of Liberty and that of a fascist salute, confronting each other; and under the cartoon is an editorial: We Or They. The “we,” of course is the all-inclusive we of social-patriotism: Roosevelt and Landon, the bosses and the workers, all constituting “the American people.” The editorial concludes: “There can be no further toleration of international machine-gun politics.”

Oneal “Revises” – to Remain His Old Self

The back page has another cartoon: An arm entitled “U.S.,” with a mailed fist, “adequate defense,” directed against the figure of “international gangster.” The title of the cartoon is: “THE ONLY LANGUAGE HE UNDERSTANDS.” The cartoon serves as illustration for an article by James Oneal, editor of the New Leader, entitled “Difference between ’17 and present crisis creates need for revised Socialist attitude towards war.”

Mr. Oneal doesn’t have to revise much: the records do not indicate that he was a serious opponent of war in 1917, and if he dares to say differently, I should enjoy giving that record, notably the belly-crawling conduct of him and his closest collaborators, Louis Waldman and Algernon Lee. The opposition to war in 1917 came not from these cowards, but from the left-wingers who stood on the program of the Russian Revolution. Oneal has little to revise now; as ever, he follows in the footsteps of Scheidemann and Noske.

Mr. Oneal would have us relegate to the scrap-heap Marx’s dictum that the workers “have nothing to lose but their chains.” “We now know,” says Oneal, “or should know, better.” For “Our democracy is worth a fight” – which Oneal perverts to mean that the fight that is worthwhile is that in which the workers shall serve as cannon-fodder for the big imperialist powers.

War-Time Dictatorship Won’t Hurt

As an able politician, Mr. Oneal understand the crucial question: that the masses cannot be mustered into service “for democracy” with any plausibility in the face of the war-time regime which is already outlined in the Industrial Mobilization Bill. Mr. Oneal therefore argues that we must surrender freedom in war-time because it only “means temporary restriction of the freedoms I have discussed,’’ and that “to identify centralization of power in war time with totalitarianism is ridiculous.”

In a series of articles the Socialist Appeal has already described the regimentation of labor which is to begin when the war breaks out. The measures planned by the government go far beyond anything instituted by Wilson in 1917. But the fundamental issue lies still deeper. We got some democracy back after the last war – we also got Palmer raids and mass arrests and prison sentences, etc. – but we cannot accept even Mr. Oneal’s guarantee that we will get some democracy back again after the next war.

If the totalitarian powers are defeated in the coming war a series of revolutions in those countries will undoubtedly follow ; and the role of France and England as hangmen of revolutions (1917–1923) will now become America’s. England and France were able to play that role with impunity because the workers of those two countries, shackled to their rulers by the “labor leaders” in the war, were too weak to prevent their masters from destroying the European revolution in Germany and Austria and Hungary. At the very least then, if we follow Oneal’s path the American workers will repeat the road of the English and French of that period.

But if America does not emerge as master of the world? Then we follow the road of Germany: capitalism saved from the revolting masses by the protection provided by the Social Democratic leaders who were welded to the capitalists by collaboration in the war; and having been saved, but unable to pay the overhead costs of democracy, the capitalists as soon as possible resort to fascism. That is the road of Oneal’s teachers, which he now propagandizes for in America.

I have only referred to two of the war-mongering features in the New Leader’s May Day issue. But the whole issue reeks of them. Leon Dennen – who passed by a natural-enough process from Stalinism to Social democracy without even skirting the revolutionary field – postures as one “wholly on the side of those who believe that the Nazi beast must be stopped with all the means at our disposal.” In previous issues Charles Yale Harrison had already made the journey into the camp of chauvinism. A prominent feature of the issue is the Easter Manifesto of the Labor and Socialist International, calling for war. Fittingly, it is followed by an article by Wilhelm Sollmann, one of the German Social Democratic leaders responsible for the crushing of the German revolution of 1918–19. The New Leader’s May Day is, in short, a dedication to imperialist slaughter.

Last updated on 17 January 2016